Pistons Fall to Bucks

New-look Bucks get big game from Gooden in 16-point win

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

– Drew Gooden has been a solid rebounder in his 10-year NBA career, but he carved the Pistons up with his scoring and passing Friday night as Milwaukee – clawing to overtake either Philadelphia or New York for the East’s final playoff berth – scored a much-needed 113-97 win over the Pistons on Friday at The Palace 24 hours after the Pistons wrapped up their last major road trip of the season with a win at Charlotte. Gooden scored 26, knocking down his mid-range jumper with uncanny accuracy in a 12 of 18 performance, but it was his passing (eight assists) that was especially dazzling. Brandon Jennings (20 points, 10 assists) and Monta Ellis (18 points, seven assists) also had big nights for the Bucks, who were helped by New Jersey’s upset win at Philadelphia.

BLUE COLLAR – Milwaukee’s offensive assault notwithstanding, Brandon Knight and Ben Gordon’s games shouldn’t get lost in the 16-point loss. Knight, playing against the league’s speediest backcourt, was electric in his movements and showed for the second straight night how he’s learning to walk the line between aggressiveness and recklessness. He finished with 25 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Gordon scored an efficient 24 points, shooting 8 of 12 and knocking down all seven of his free throws.

RED FLAG – The Pistons started the game sharp offensively – when they could get the ball past their free-throw line extended and get into their half-court offense. Turnovers were a big bugaboo, especially in the early going, as the Bucks forced six in the first quarter, many of them in the backcourt or just past the half-court line that quickly became transition chances. The Pistons cleaned it up once falling behind 36-25, but the early turnovers put Milwaukee in the comfortable position of playing with a lead and established an offensive flow for a team that relies on a high tempo to succeed.

It won’t have any impact on determining this year’s NBA champion, but the most intriguing trade of the season was one engineered by ex-Pistons executive John Hammond. Now general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks, Hammond traded franchise cornerstone but often-injured center Andrew Bogut to Golden State for Monta Ellis, pairing him with Brandon Jennings in a backcourt the equivalent of a Porsche running next to a Ferrari.

The Pistons caught their first glimpse of the Jennings-Ellis guard tandem Friday night and … yeah, still intriguing.

Milwaukee scored 113 points and accumulated a staggering 36 assists on 45 baskets – including 23 on 25 second-half baskets, when the Bucks outscored the Pistons 61-50 – in winning by 16 and staying on the heels of Philadelphia and New York in the chase for the last playoff berths in the East.

Jennings, Ellis and veteran big man Drew Gooden all had eye-opening numbers – they combined for 64 points and 25 assists – but it was Milwaukee’s clawing defense that set the tone for the night, forcing six quick turnovers that rocked the Pistons back on their heels early.

“You saw right from the beginning, they were picking us up, denying our entry pass, into our bodies on screens,” Lawrence Frank said. “We had those six quick turnovers, but the tempo they played at and the disposition, they were the definite aggressors and it impacted us. Over the course of time, they imposed their will.”

“It definitely limited us a little bit and changed how we wanted to play,” said Brandon Knight, who scored 25 points to go with eight assists and five rebounds. “We let it affect us in the beginning. We allowed their pressure to dictate a lot of the stuff we did and it led to easy baskets for them.”

Turnovers aside, the Pistons were sharp offensively in the first half, when they shot 48 percent and scored 47 points, trailing Milwaukee by five. But the Bucks opened the second half with a 6-0 run and led by double digits for the game’s last 20 minutes. Gooden was dynamic in the third quarter, making showy passes and running up 10 points and five assists in the quarter alone.

“They scored six quick points and then Gooden started getting a really good rhythm,” Frank said. “They were the aggressor. Just passing and catching they made difficult for us. Dribble handoffs were difficult. They were into our bodies, into our skin. They played with a desperation, urgency, for 48 minutes.”

Ben Gordon backed up Knight’s 25 with 24 of his own, getting them on 8 of 12 shooting and going 7 of 7 at the line. He led a 10-0 run early in the second quarter to rally the Pistons from 11 down to one, but they couldn’t get enough traction defensively to allow the efficient scoring Knight and Gordon provided move them into striking range.

“They’re that good,” Gordon said of Milwaukee’s firepower. “They’ve been doing that since they made that trade. With Monta and Brandon Jennings and just the way they play, they put a lot of pressure on you. They did a good job tonight of getting where they needed to get. They had balanced scoring. They gave us some trouble.”

New York won and Philadelphia lost Friday night, making them tied at 31-28 for the final two playoff spots. Milwaukee’s win puts them two behind the 76ers in the loss column at 29-30 with seven games left for all three teams. It’s not likely the Bucks would beat either Chicago or Miami in a seven-game series, of course, but the Ellis-Jennings backcourt makes them about as dangerous as a No. 8 seed could be. They did some convincing at The Palace, at least.